Finding Life in a Fistful of Trash


I pick up trash.

It started a long time ago. I think it all began from a seed planted by those old “Keep America Beautiful” commercials from the 70’s — the one where a man portraying an American Indian stands by the side of the road and as a car drives by the passenger throws trash at his feet, and a tear comes to his eye.**

In many ways that picture has stuck with me. So, when I see trash and I’m able, I pick it up.  It happened again today, another opportunity. And as I stood there eyeing the discarded paper towel (wanting to ignore it but not sure I wanted to win the internal wrestling match I was feeling between “I should” and “I don’t want to”), I walked past. This time I did not pick it up.

I was almost to the hallway when a thought began to emerge in my mind. And in a moment I realized this ritual of mine touches on something far deeper. This simple act of picking up trash is somehow linked to something deep within my heart — it serves to expose my beliefs and motives about life.

Standing in the hallway, I felt God ask me, “Is it just about you?”  I knew in a moment what He meant.  Is life all about me? Do I want my life to be about myself or do I want it to be about giving of myself?  For me, the act of picking up a paper towel isn’t really about pollution control or keeping America beautiful (although I’m all for that!), it is instead about deeper questions… about the story I want to live. It is about what I want my life to be about.


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just get tired of trying to hold it all together… tired of trying to ‘fix’ everything… tired of doing what everyone expects me to do, to be what they expect me to be… tired from the shear concentration it takes to juggle it all. You may not pick up trash, but you do your own things. You have your own expectations and hopes and efforts. Do you ever get tired of juggling everything life throws at you?

For me, standing there contemplating a wadded up paper towel, I gave way to a sort of self-pity and hopelessness. I gave way to “What difference does it make anyway?” and “Why don’t other people…” and I let myself feel small.  But then, in that span of seconds, God broke into my simple, insignificant, unguarded moment and revealed to me something hidden in my heart. (I’m so grateful when He does this and how He knows just what are the real issues of my life.)

I’m learning to listen, to be attentive to these moments, learning the benefit they hold for me. And as I turned back around, grabbed the towel, and tossed it in the trashcan, I considered these thoughts. In reflection, I think there are several reasons why I pick up trash.  It really is about the story I want to live. I want to let nothing be “beneath me”;  to remember, life is not just about ME;  to remember, I am here to offer the strength of my life to others.  And, in this unguarded moment, I am re-centered.

Here are some quotes I love that I’ve posted on my wall to help keep these ideas on my mind:

  • It is more blessed to give then to receive. ~ Jesus
  • Be the change you wish to see in the world ~ Unknown
  • Give more than you take. … Put in more than you take out.  ~ Unknown
  • I hear, I forget… I see, I remember… I do, I understand.  ~ Old African Proverb
  • Everyone has the power for greatness, not for ‘fame’, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • What man is a man who does not make the world better.  ~Balian of Iberlin, Kingdom of Heaven
  • We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. ~ Sir Winston Churchill
  • I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.  ~ Helen Keller
  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. ~ Robert

Sometimes its the simple things that keep us grounded… that teach us unexpected things… found in seemingly insignificant places and unguarded moments.

What are some simple things you’ve discovered recently?  Were you able to recognize your own ‘unguarded’ moments and give them space to grow in your mind and heart?


** Keep America Beautiful:
View the video here:
Photo credits:
“Trash With The Card” by luigi diamanti, from
“People_Start_Pollution_-_1971_Ad.jpg” from Wikipedia,

7 thoughts on “Finding Life in a Fistful of Trash

  1. I believe the world would be a better place if we could go back to the simple things in life. We live life in the fast lane all the time because we are always on the go. Before cell phones we spent more time talking to each other face to face. Now, we text each other from across the room instead of personally interacting. The simple things use to bring kids pleasure such as hop-scotch, jack rocks, hide-go-seek. This was the highlight of our summer evenings when I was a child. Those were the exciting times in life. Now a days kids never go outside to play because the computer and video games has become the new age activity.

    1. Hi TalkingHeart2Heart

      I have to agree that at time life’s pace feels faster and faster. I wonder if, even with all the distractions, there might be a way to recapture some of the old simplicity. Perhaps kids just don’t know the joy that simply things can bring. And, I wonder if we’ve done a good job modelling it and helping expose them to it. I have a challenge for you… buy a couple of sets of jacks and some sidewalk chalk. Then find some neighborhood kids who look a bit bored and invite them into a game. Show them the joy you’ve experienced with these things. Sometimes, when we see someone else ‘love’ something, we learn to love it too.

      Let us all know how it goes. I’d love to hear.


  2. “Do I want my life to BE ABOUT myself or do I want it to be about GIVING OF myself?”

    I enjoyed your thoughts about this choice. The majority of the time, I want my life to be about myself – receiving admiration, praise, positive remarks, or fun responses. Being the center of attention doesn’t provide the most pleasant feeling, however, since it turns me into a reservoir of taking. I don’t have the capacity to hold all of it. When I think about what gives me the greatest pleasure, it has been about how I’ve enjoyed *receiving* someone’s positive remarks and also *gave* something valuable to someone — in a very literal sense, the giving of myself.

    “What are some simple things you’ve discovered recently?”

    I’ve learned that God points me to specific people that I can give to. He doesn’t overwhelm me with the possibility of giving to *every* person around me. Making myself an available resource to people has been a challenging and soul-expanding experience.

    1. Hi Jeff

      I like the word picture you’ve painted with “a reservoir of taking” and not having the “capacity” to hold all of it. This is a great insight. That certainly helps us see the gravity of any choices that might make us live for self alone. It is so good to see how God gently moves you to pour out to others, not in an overwhelming way. That is so encouraging. It seems counter-intuitive to *give* of ourselves, it *should* feel like doing so ‘takes away’ from us. Instead, as you’ve mentioned, we receive when we give. And, these “soul-expanding” efforts pay big dividends in life.

      Thanks for sharing your life with us.


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